Let me be clear up front: I am one of the biggest George Pickens fans out there. I loved his college tape, his goofy draft day picture, and most importantly, I love his style of play. Despite this fandom, even I was surprised by how good Pickens looked as a rookie. Every week he seemed to come down with some sort of impressive catch, and despite a slow start and a middling offense, Pickens had a respectable season.
While I am thrilled with the pick so far, I am also a realist. I love what Ryan Clark meant to this team when he played, and I think he is a fine analyst, but him coming out and saying that Pickens is more talented than Justin Jefferson is outrageous. As of right now, this isn’t a debate to be having.
Jefferson is on a historic pace so far as a pro player, compiling close to 5000 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns throughout his first three seasons. While he benefits from a decent Minnesota offense, his talent is undeniable. He has great hands, impressive athleticism, and his route running makes him uncoverable.
Pickens is lacking in some of those departments right now, as any rookie would. Jefferson is the complete package as a player, as his game doesn’t have any deficiencies. Pickens was impressive, but saying that he is a better receiver than Jefferson right now is outlandish.
Pickens could get there for the Steelers
This shouldn’t be seen as a dig against Pickens either. Saying he isn’t the best receiver in the league after a good rookie campaign isn’t unfair. On top of this, Pickens was a fairly limited player as a rookie. He was used mostly on deep routes and focused on making contested catches as opposed to getting open.
While it worked in year one, Pickens needs to grow as a route runner and be better after the catch. Those are both things that Jefferson excels at. Being a jump ball specialist is fine, but it will only get you so far in this league.
That all being said, I have never seen a player with the ability to catch balls like Pickens. It isn’t even just his hands, as he can utilize extreme catching angles and still reel in the ball. He makes the incredible look routine, and he showed all of that as a rookie last year.
Assuming he continues to harness that ability (as training camp has seemingly proved), the sky is the limit for Pickens. He showed off some better routes and the ability to make some moves after the catch in the first preseason game (something he failed to do last year), so he is clearly making progress.
If he can work on his routes and ability after the catch, the sky is truly the limit for Pickens. We could easily be having this debate a few years from now assuming Jefferson doesn’t fall off. I think Pickens can be the top receiver in the league, but he isn’t there yet. Jefferson has earned that spot, and if Pickens becomes a better overall receiver, then this debate will be more logical.